America enters hypersonic arms race

The successful firing of the Concept of Hypersonic Air Breathing Weapons (HAWCs) represents what appears to be a breakthrough in the Defense Department’s efforts to accelerate, test, and ultimately deploy hypersonic weapons.

The effort has become urgent in recent years. American weapons developers have noted that the United States has fallen behind Russia and China in the hypersonic arms race. However, with accelerated effort and recent progress, the gap is rapidly narrowing.

The HAWC is a weapons program that is built under the partnership of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force. It has industry support from both Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.

As cited by DARPA, breathing systems like the HAWC use a Scramjet engine to generate thrust and propel the air vehicle long distances to a target. This is quite difficult to accomplish because while it is possible to quickly push or propel a weapon or air vehicle to hypersonic speeds, maintaining those speeds can be a whole other matter altogether.

Although designed to achieve levels of propulsion previously unattainable, Scramjet engine technology aligns with the technical configuration of existing high horsepower engine systems. This includes sucking up a flow of high speed air, compressing the air, and then igniting it with gas or some kind of propellant to generate thrust.

DARPA, the Air Force and many industrial partners have been developing, testing and working on scramjet propulsion technology for many years. It has been a difficult and at times fruitless process. Several years ago, the Air Force had some success with its X-51 Waverider hypersonic scramjet, an effort that undoubtedly contributed to the success of the HAWC flight.

“Achievement builds on pioneering scramjet projects, including work on the national X-30 aerospace aircraft as well as unmanned flights of NASA’s X-43 vehicles and the US Air’s X-51 Waverider. Strength, “according to a DARPA press release on the HAWC test.

The challenges of hypersonic flight are manifold. They include missile configuration, heat management, targeting and trajectory, and boundary layer airflow surrounding the mobile weapon. Naturally, traveling at hypersonic speeds generates unprecedented temperatures, creating a need to design heat resistant materials and creating the conditions necessary to generate a smoother or “laminar” airflow less disrupting the flight path of a weapon. Turbulence in the airflow can cause molecules and other particles to move in flight, a phenomenon that can both generate excessive and destabilizing heat and deflect the missile, according to the hypersonic weapons developers of the United States. ‘Air Force. This is why hypersonic weapons engineers take great care in specially building and carefully crafting hypersonic vehicles, creating configurations more conducive to generating less disruptive airflow. Less disruptive airflow, coupled with a smooth shaped horizontal exterior, could also provide the added benefit of some “stealth” properties. A senior Air Force scientist went so far as to describe airflow problems as “boundary layer phenomenology.”

Raytheon argues that managing “thermodynamics” or “heat” is essential to create successful and sustained hypersonic flight. The amount of heat generated by weapons traveling at hypersonic speeds can easily create flight instability or even destroy some of the materials built into the weapon. This is one of the reasons why the developers at Raytheon specifically developed new weapon materials intended to withstand high temperatures. One of the biggest challenges is what Raytheon calls the “chain of effects” – the command and control, networking and sensor technology sufficient to achieve the required guidance, targeting and precision flight. This is an imperative aspect because maneuvering towards targets, changing course as needed, and achieving precision strike capability are feats that are naturally more difficult when someone attempts to hit them at hypersonic speeds five times the speed. speed of sound.

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National interest. Osborn previously served in the Pentagon as a highly trained expert in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. Osborn also worked as an on-air presenter and military specialist on national television networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also holds an MA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Reuters

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About Joaquin Robertson

Joaquin Robertson

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